Sports Bars, Pubs, Grills, Bars, bars, bars... They all share a few things in common - televisions on every wall, some number of culinary concoctions, and of course, plenty of beer and booze. In this regard, Tailgators Pub & Grill is no different. But beyond that, the similarities begin to disperse. While at a "typical" bar, if you could get food at all, you wouldn't expect it to be good, nor even want to imagine how it's being prepared. But on our most recent trip to Tailgators in Magnolia, we were pleasantly surprised. For the first time in a long time, we had not only good service, but good - nay, let's call it great - food.
Given our past experiences on numerous occasions over the years at Tailgators (great food + so-so service, decent food + crappy service, sub-par food + sub-par service, etc.) I just didn't have my hopes set too high when he decided this is where he wanted to go. And while in my mind, that meant no matter the experience surely my opinion of Tailgators had nowhere to go but up, I simply wasn't prepared for how good all around our dining experience was going to be.
In the mood to try something different (in the past I've tried a range of Tailgators menu; chicken tender platter, bacon cheeseburger, home plate sliders and more), I ordered the Cajun Turkey Melt ($8.49) with sweet potato fries ($0.99 extra). The sandwich is described on the menu as smoked turkey breast, Applewood smoked bacon, avocado slices, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and Cajun mustard melted onto a sweet jalapeño bun. On this day, everything about this sandwich was fantastic. So much turkey was piled on, there was no way I was going to get through more than half of the sandwich; the bacon was thick cut, the avocado fresh, Cajun mustard offering enough of a condiment that no other was necessary, and that sweet jalapeño bun was so fresh, the steam from the sandwich alone was enough to stick it to the plate. The sweet potato fries were also great; none of them over- or under-cooked, just the right amount of course-ground salt to give them flavor without being overwhelming. Worth every bit of the $0.99 up-charge. I would order this over a burger again and again.
As I mentioned above, we'd become rather accustomed to not expecting overly attentive service - in this or any bar, actually. Because we are usually at an establishment to review the atmosphere, food, and service, that rarely leaves much room in the review to sample ye old barkeep's wares. And though Tailgators isn't exactly a Breastaurant - the bars in that industry thrive - yet, suffer - many failures. The service at some of these bars, pubs, and grills, in many cases, is inattentive at best. Unless you are buying drinks, you would be lucky to get decent service. Some places that can or at least try to get away with serving inferior products are by way of a previously mentioned method of staffing, cheap beer, an abundance of big screen TV's, and letting nature take its course.
Once again, a surprise awaited us. Within a minute or two of our arrival, a very polite server, Nikki, appeared at the table next to us, acknowledged our presence with the customary "be right with you folks" and a smile before taking their order, and said she would be right back. Which she was. She didn't bat an eye at our drink order of two ice waters with lemon, simply replied, "My pleasure," and went to retrieve them. When she returned, she noticed the table wasn't clean before we'd even mentioned it (which, typically, we would have), apologized and said she'd give it a wipe down. Granted, this meant she'd been at our table four times before taking our order, but each time she was away, it was with purpose, and only for the shortest of times. After we placed our order, she once again replied, "My pleasure," before going to put the order in. I'll get back to this, but first, you want to know about his meal, don't you?
There aren't many places in the area offering "Fish & Chips," so it's pretty easy for me to pick a favorite. And I'll be honest, like she said earlier, since the service hasn't always been that great before, I generally like Tailgators for their Fish & Chips ($9.49). This time around, though, it would seem looks can be deceiving. Though the plate had the usual and customary generous helping of nicely-seasoned cod fillets, as I began to eat them, I discovered they were so undercooked, they bordered on raw. The waffle fries could have been cooked a bit longer as well.
Though once again, Nikki handled the situation like a pro, we quickly began to feel like we were experiencing a bit of déjà vu when we watched her approach the manager to show him the undercooked fish. At the time, he (the manager) was on one side of a partition (facing us), sharing something on his phone with another server (whose back was to us) while they chatted and laughed. Nikki waited for a pause in their conversation for a little while, before seemingly giving up and taking the plate back to the kitchen. By the time that the second plate arrived, I sampled her Turkey sandwich and couldn't help myself; and suddenly her plate was empty. This was a fantastic sandwich that I would certainly order in the future. To that end, I had no room left for my plate and opted to take it home for later. Of course, with this originally being deep fried, only to be cooled and reheated later, it wouldn't be fair to comment on it other than saying that the fish was fully cooked the second time around.
While we waited for a new plate of his fish & chips, he managed to finish off the other half of my sandwich. This, of course, filled him up. So when Nikki came to let us know his plate was on it's way, we told her as much and she offered to package it up to go. She said the manager had already removed the charge for the dish, either way. We thought that was a nice gesture. Still, we asked if she'd send him over, as we wanted to share with him both the good and the bad of our experience. Joe (the manager) came right over, and apologized again for the food being undercooked. He also let us know that he had "taken care of" the dish, for which we thanked him.
Then we both let him know just how much we appreciated Nikki's service, her attentiveness, and professionalism. We then went on to tell him what we'd watched when she'd taken the plate back to him, and how disappointed we were in his behavior. We expected him to react with contempt or an excuse, but then we received the third surprise of the day; Joe apologized, adding that we were absolutely right, that he should not have handled the situation in such a manner, adding that he certainly wouldn't approve of someone else doing the same, and appreciated the feedback. Take note, boys & girls - that is how you take constructive criticism.
Before we left, we chatted a little more with Nikki, and learned her background and the majority of her experience is in fine dining establishments. She's opted to bring that level of service to a more laid-back environment, to, as she put it, better to be able to enjoy her job and not feel so stuffy. We let her know who we were at that point, and what we were up to (which is why she was happy to oblige us with taking her photo). And though we can't imagine she'd have asked for it in a million years, we still promised her we'd tell everyone that if they plan on going to Tailgators in Magnolia - ask for Nikki. She is easily the best server we've ever had at Tailgators; the other servers could and should take notes from her on providing great service. Had this been our first experience at this pub, we would have gone back for a second visit much sooner. Maybe, just maybe, the customer service level at Tailgators is actually improving.